English cricket's relationship with Twenty20 is primarily one of dysfunction. Since devising the format in 2003 and losing the arms race to such an extent that they went back to the drawing board to cook up a 100-ball variant to reclaim the initiative ceded, T20 has not been short of love but certainly short of respect.
Part of that is rooted in the luxury of England being one of three sides that can afford to reside on the moral high ground of Test cricket. Some of that is also snobbery, though that comes from experiencing so many joys from the longest format. The World T20 success in 2010 – a first ICC trophy win, no less – and the heartbreak of 2016’s final were celebrated and mourned, but not for long. Even in the lead-up to the next edition, Tests in the new year against Sri Lanka and India leading into an Ashes at the end of 2021 are dearer to the majority of die-hards and casuals.
But Tuesday’s dominant win against South Africa, which confirmed a 3-0 series victory, contained a marquee moment for the English game. With the dismissal of Quinton de Kock from a slower delivery that deceived the opener into offering a catch duly taken by Tom Curran, Chris Jordan became the country’s leading wicket-taker in international T20.
It is the first time a player of colour has led a run-scoring or wicket-taking chart for England. Man or woman, in any format. A seismic moment contained within the frayed wrapping of a dead rubber in a maligned format.
Some will say this doesn’t matter. Perhaps even say they don’t see colour, which is code that they really do. But it does at a time when the England and Wales Cricket Board are assessing why there are so few black cricketers throughout the tops and bottoms of the sport. Even for other minorities, the presence of Jordan as a leader in a field of any kind, a totem of excellence, is important.
Such representation matters, and it is interesting Jordan has rarely been held up as a champion of diversity in the way Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have. That might be because media coverage of limited-overs cricket still lacks the depth afforded to Tests, coupled with a schedule that means England’s white-ball cricketers rarely hold focus for very long.
It’s also because Jordan keeps quiet counsel. Those who know him speak of an engaging mind, which, having arrived in the United Kingdom from Barbados via a scholarship to Dulwich School back in 2006, is attuned to the social structures within the UK.
Just last week he and good mate Archer signed up to the ACE Programme Charity, set up by Ebony Rainford-Brent with Surrey County Cricket Club, as an ambassador to help to address a 75 percent decline in cricket participation among Britain’s black community. He wants to contribute in meaningful ways, and this will be a hands-on role rather than a token one. As he said recently out in South Africa when addressing the home side’s refusal to take a knee to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, “all we can do is try and affect everything that’s coming in the future”.
His career to date has been a peculiar one. A Test debut in 2014 came with the fanfare of pace, but he was discarded after just eight caps. Soon he was pigeon-holed as a white-ball player, and even that hole got smaller. He was out of England’s thinking for the 2019 50-over World Cup as early as September 2016, which was his last ODI cap before a recall against South Africa in February of this year.
There’s a strong suggestion Jordan’s congeniality has counted against him in these situations. He gives his all, trains hard, does what he needs to do to prepare himself in his own time and – importantly for selectors and captains – does not kick up a fuss. It is why, for example, one Indian Premier League coach refers to him as “the ultimate non-luxury luxury player”: high-effort and low maintenance, whether he’s starting games or not. But also why England had no qualms dropping him with a respectable 21 Test wickets at a promising average of 35. Some around the set-up, including Stuart Broad, are still slightly bemused by that decision.
None of this has dimmed Jordan’s sunny disposition, merely broadened his emotional range. He remains a wise head at his county, Sussex, a confidant of skipper Ben Brown and others starting out on their own journeys. Those at the club say the only tell that he is someone of international repute is when he pulls up to Hove in his flashy Range Rover.
The empathy extends beyond the well-known tidbits of how he helped Archer settle. Just a few weeks ago he was in Dubai with his Sussex team-mate Tymal Mills, helping the left-arm quick map out a route back into the top tiers of T20 cricket by drawing on his own experiences of coming back from stress fractures of the back.
Finally, though, it seems the best of Jordan’s traits are aligned with England’s expectations ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup. In playing all three games of this series, he goes into the next 10 months knowing a spot in the 15 for India is in his safe hands. And it’s not through taking the most wickets. Jordan is as much there on his willing.
Because while he is tagged as a death bowler by many, he is no market leader. In all T20 matches – international, domestically for Sussex and across franchise cricket – CricViz data shows he has gone at 9.4 runs per over when bowling in the last five of a match since the 2016 World T20. That has a slight increase to 9.9 when just considering the last 12 months.
Outside of that period of an innings, he’s at 7.9 rpo. Nothing special there either, but all off-set by being statistically the best fielder in the world on CricViz’s terms. Even data sceptics cannot argue with the latter.
The key here is Eoin Morgan knows exactly what he is getting from Jordan. Not just a talented cricketer but one who will never shirk responsibility or graft. And in game of wild swings, that consistency is key.
Morgan is a captain whose calculations rely on the maths of personality as well as performance. If he knows someone can promise him at least seven-out-of-ten, he will find the three. Those gurantees are there in Rashid’s frugal spells, Jos Buttler’s ability to get England ahead of an asking rate in two balls and, now, in Dawid Malan’s ability to convert watchful starts.
And yet, it may be Jordan who makes way in the XI come next year’s tournament. The off-spin of Moeen remains a must ahead of a tournament in India, along with the left-hander’s death hitting. Sam Curran’s emergence as a short-form force is also a factor that could see Jordan lose out, despite his best efforts. Again.
His place on top of the pile of English short-form bowlers carries a bit more of a guarantee. Rashid is the closest active player, 15 behind, though there are not enough matches between now and next winter to overtake the 32-year-old.
Regardless, Jordan deserves to be treasured. Not just for reaching new heights, but doing so by staying level as an unassuming trailblazer to some, and an example to follow for all.